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Girls from 10 UK schools participated in a cyber security event designed to test their cyber skills and encourage them to pursue a career in security.
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The CyberFirst Girls challenge, organised by the National Cyber Security Centre, saw 37 girls complete tasks to investigate a staged website hack on fictional Paddock Hill School.
The event was designed to make girls more aware of cyber-focused job opportunities in an attempt to increase the number of young women choosing technology careers in the future.
Miriam González, founder of Inspiring Girls International, claimed every girl who attended the competition would be valuable to the cyber sector. With the number of skilled applicants for the competition, she said she could not understand why the number of women in the technology industry remains so low.
González urged girls to stick with it. “I was truly impressed by the talent of the girls who took part in the competition and I hope that many of them pursue a career in the technology field,” she said.
In the lead-up to the final, 2,171 teams participated in a range of online challenges, submitting an average of 30,000 answers per 24 hours of the competition.
The 37 teenage finalists were chosen from an original cohort of 8,000 applicants to demonstrate skills such as hacking and coding alongside soft skills such as teamwork and communication – all to uncover 28 clues about the identity of the imaginary hacker.
Although none of the teams completed all of the online challenges, one team was able to do a three-rota enigma challenge.
Opening up career opportunities
Many girls claim they do not choose a career in technology due to a lack of industry role models – you can’t be what you can’t see.
During the competition, the participants were assisted by notable women in the IT industry, including Inspiring Girls International founder Miriam González, TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding, Symantec chief strategist Sian John, Microsoft general manager of marketing and operations Nicola Hodson, and TechUK president and head of UKI for Sage Jacqueline de Rojas.
Read more about cyber skills
- The European cyber security industry has one of the lowest proportions of women and the highest gender pay gaps in the world, the latest Global Information Security Workforce Study shows.
- The Cyber Schools Programme, announced by the DCMS, aims to train thousands of teenagers in cyber security skills.
The winning team – Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School – won £1,000 worth of IT equipment for their school. Emily Shackleton, one of the winning students, said: “The thing we enjoyed most about the competition was the ability to see our progress.”
Other participants stated they felt a sense of achievement from the competition, that having an all-female competition made them more confident in participating, and that they would like to take part in similar competitions in the future.
Lucy Inett, a student at Peshore High School, said: “The thing we enjoyed most about the competition was the introduction to a new world and knowledge level, especially how much we all learnt. The competition has really opened our eyes to a whole new career choice. We went into this competition knowing hardly anything, and from the challenges we have come away knowing so much more than we did before.”
Cyber skills in high demand
The increase in high-profile security breaches has led firms to look for more cyber security professionals to bridge any security gaps.
The government ran the CyberFirst Girls challenge as part of its five-year National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS), which is investing £1.9bn in developing the cyber security capabilities of the UK.